24 hours in Paris: Free Sightseeing in Paris

Darcy Vierow is a travel blogger based in South Carolina, USA. When she’s not traveling with her husband, she can usually be found at home drinking coffee. A self-described anxious traveler, she owns the website planreadygo.com where she primarily writes about travel planning for those who want to travel better in spite of their anxiety. 

Paris is a beautiful city full of so many amazing sites and so much history. While you can easily spend a lot of money on sightseeing activities in Paris, there are also a lot of wonderful things to do and see that won’t cost you a penny. In this post, I’ve laid out a one day in Paris of free sightseeing, but you can modify this to fit however you like to tour a city.

We’re going to start off our day of free sightseeing in Paris at the Deportation Martyrs Memorial on Île de la Cité.

24 hours in Paris: Free Sightseeing in Paris

Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation (Deportation Martyrs Memorial)

If you’re using the metro to get around Paris, the closest station to the Deportation Martyrs Memorial is Cité on line 4. The Cité station is a great example of the art nouveau station entrances from the early 20th century that you can still find in several places around Paris.

Even if you don’t use the metro to get to the memorial, I’d recommend stopping by Cité to take a look.

The Deportation Martyrs Memorial honors all of those who were deported from Paris to concentration camps in World War II. You’ll find the Memorial at Square de, 7 Quai de l’Archevêché, on Ile-de-France Île de la Cité (an island in the Seine). Essentially, it’s behind Notre-Dame and across the street.

Admission to the memorial is always free and is typically closed on Mondays and major holidays.

Of all of the free things to do in Paris, this is definitely one of the most solemn. It’s a wonderful place to spend a few minutes of quiet contemplation about those whose lives were stolen from them during the Nazi regime.

The Left Bank Bouquinistes

After you leave the Deportation Memorial, turn left. While you could go either direction, we’re going to leave Île de la Cité and walk down the Left Bank of the Seine.

As you follow the river west, away from the memorial, you’ll pass numbers of green stalls offering everything from souvenir refrigerator magnets and postcards to vintage posters, magazines and used books.

These are the bouquinistes, and they’ve been selling their wares on the banks of the Seine for literally hundreds of years.

There are more than 200 stalls on both sides of the river. The stalls themselves are highly regulated by Paris law (color, height, etc.) and there is a years-long waiting list to get one of the coveted spots. You’re sure to find a good deal on a Parisian souvenir here.

The Louvre Courtyard and Pyramid

You’ll reach the end of the Left Bank bouquiniste stalls at Quai Voltaire. Turn right and cross over the Seine at Pont du Carrousel. We’re going to stop by the Louvre courtyard to see one of the most recognizable structures in the city…the Pyramid.

As you enter the courtyard, the pyramid will be on the right. You can’t miss this glass and metal structure designed by I.M. Pei. It was completed in 1989 and serves as the main entrance to the Louvre Museum.

The Louvre offers free admission from 6 to 9:45 p.m. on the first Saturday of each month and on Bastille Day (July 14). I would highly recommend adding this important museum to your itinerary if you can, especially if you’re nearby when they have free admission.

Jardin des Tuileries

Directly opposite the pyramid stands what looks like a miniature Arc de Triomphe. It’s actually the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, and beyond it is the amazing Tuileries Garden. Originally created by Catherine de’ Medici in the 16th century for the Tuileries Palace (no longer there), it’s now a public park that stretches from the Louvre to Place de la Concorde.

Take a stroll through the large park and pull up one of the green chairs around the Grand Bassin Rond or the Bassin Octagonal and take a break. You’ve earned it. The Tuileries is a beautiful park that’s perfect for people watching and soaking up the Paris atmosphere. It’s one of the most wonderfully relaxing things to do in Paris.

Once you’re ready to move on, exit the west end of the park to Place de la Concorde.

Place de la Concorde

You’re now standing at Place de la Concorde, the largest of Paris’ public squares and the site of Louis XVI’s execution in 1793. The square had originally been named Place Louis XV until the French Revolution when it became home to a large guillotine and was thus renamed Place de la Révolution.

After the violence of the French Revolution, the square was named Place de la Concorde…then renamed Place Louis XV…then Place Louis XVI…then back to Place de la Concorde again. Place de la Concorde is also noted for the Obelisk du Luxour and the two Fontaines de la Concorde that stand one at each end of the square.

Optional side trip: If you have the time and the inclination to pay for the metro fare, at this point in your day you could take a side excursion to Montmartre to see the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur. It’s an easy ride on metro line 12 from Concorde to Abbesses.

Basilique du Sacré-Coeur

After you get off the metro at Abbesses but before you head off through Montmartre, turn around and take a look at the station entrance. It’s another great example of the art nouveau entrances designed by Hector Guimard. This one was originally designed for the Hotel de Ville station and was moved to Abbesses in 1974.

From the Abbesses station, make your way on foot a few blocks away to Basilique du Sacré-Coeur at 35 Rue du Chevalier de la Barre. This house of worship stands on the highest point in Paris, atop a very steep hill, Butte Montmartre. You can either purchase a metro ticket and take the funicular train to the top of the hill or climb the approximately 270 steps.

You’ll pass through a minor security check before you can enter the basilica where there's a no photography policy. It’s a wonderful place to spend a few minutes in quiet thought or prayer. After you leave the church, take in the amazing view of the city than either take the funicular back down the hill or use the stairs.

At this point, you can explore more of Montmartre or head back to the Abbesses metro station and
return to Place de la Concorde.

Avenue des Champs-Élysées

Now we’re going to take in one of the most famous streets in the world—the Champs-Élysées. From Place de la Concorde, head up the north (upper) side of the Champs-Élysées toward the Arc de Triomphe. The Champs-Élysées is over a mile long, so take your time, explore and take café breaks as needed.

The broad avenue is lined with retail stores, restaurants, theaters and many souvenir shops that cater to the millions of tourists that come to Paris every year. If you’re interested in luxury fashion, on your way back down the lower side of the Champs-Élysées you can take a detour through the Golden Triangle between Avenue George V and Avenue Montaigne.

This area of the 8th Arrondissement is known for its luxury hotels, sky-high real estate prices and haute couture fashion houses and like Chanel, Valentino, Louis Vuitton, Chloé and Dior.

Arc de Triomphe

At the top of the Champs-Élysées stands one of the most recognizable monuments in the world—the Arc de Triomphe. It was Napoleon who wanted the triumphal arch built, but it was not dedicated until 1836 by French King Louis Philippe, 15 years after Napoleon’s death.

While you will need to pay €12 to climb up to the terrace on the Arc, it’s absolutely free to get up close the monument and even underneath. And as impressive as it is from a distance, it’s absolutely stunning up close. From underneath especially, you can really see the beauty of the design of the Arc.

To see the Arc de Triomphe up close, use the underground pedestrian walkway from the top of the Champs-Élysées. Do not attempt to cross the crazy traffic circling around the arch on Place Charles de Gaulle.

Enjoy the sunset and the Eiffel Tower lights at Champ de Mars

I can’t think of a better way to end your amazing day of free sightseeing in Paris than at the Eiffel Tower for sunset and the sparkling lights.

There are a number of places in Paris with good views of the Eiffel Tower, but after your long day of sightseeing, you might enjoy pulling up a patch of grass at Champs de Mars, the large public green space that extends east from the base of the Eiffel Tower to École Militaire.

After the sun goes down, the Eiffel tower is lit up and then all of Paris is treated to a show of sparkling lights every hour on the hours from after sunset to 1 a.m.

Paris truly is a wonderful city with so much to offer to those who want to get to know her better, and that you can see so much for free makes it that much better. Enjoy!

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